After writing a preview of Monday’s Front Royal Town Council work session based on Jig ‘n’ Jive Dance Studio proprietor Annie Guttierrez’s analysis of minor changes to the Town’s Special Events Code, I thought I had the lead for the coming work session story figured out.
But that work session of July 12, took an unexpected turn 90 minutes in when a non-agenda item was raised during “Open Discussion” by Councilman Scott Lloyd. The “policy attorney” and “right-to-life” advocate, most prominently known nationally as former President Donald Trump’s Director of Refugee Resettlement during the child separation policy at the southern border, implored his colleagues to bring his pandemic-related, anti-vaccination choice consequences ordinance proposal to a vote despite admitting he knew he has no support for the initiative among them. Lloyd’s proposed ordinance would make it illegal for any business or “entity” in the Town of Front Royal to, not only fire but reposition or refuse to hire someone based on their refusal to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. It is a pandemic as of July 13, attributed with killing over 4 million worldwide, 611,700 nationally, 11,450 in Virginia, and 61 in Warren County in the last year and a half.
That lack of support, even among Lloyd’s fellow conservative Republican Committee council members is based on the town legal staff’s opinion such an initiative has no legal basis in Virginia, particularly as a Dillon Rule state in which municipal governments have no authority greater than what is defined for them by the state government.
With his point raised, Councilwoman Letasha Thompson confronted Lloyd about his reasoning for requesting a public vote on an initiative Lloyd said he wouldn’t mind being the “lone vote” in support of. “I have a question – what is the goal? I’m starting to think there’s a goal here, and I think it’s a very personal goal I’m trying to understand,” she began. “What is your next step? Because you’re asking to bring something to a vote that you literally know you’re going to be the only one to vote on the ‘yes’ line. So, I’m thinking there’s something beyond town council that you’re going for. And that’s fine but you need to let the rest of us know,” Thompson told Lloyd, citing what she said were at least 10 previous times Lloyd had brought the matter to the council table.
“So, I’d like to understand, do you have some ambition outside of Front Royal and the town council – is that what we’re doing? Because … it’s a bunch of push for something that you know isn’t going anywhere. But there has to be some personal gain for you, and I’m trying to figure out …” at which point Lloyd interrupted to respond.
“You say it isn’t going anywhere – it has nothing to do with any personal ambitions beyond town council. I have four years on this and I don’t really plan out career moves or anything, especially this kind of thing, that far in advance,” Lloyd asserted. Rather, he claimed representation of a constituent base concerned about the issue of employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccinations he has heard from over the past month.
“And they’re saying things like ‘I want to be able to get pregnant in the future. And I have concerns about this vaccine. But I also don’t want to lose my job because I don’t want to lose my health insurance. – And I want to do something to help those people,” Lloyd stated beating the table rhythmically with that final sentence to make his point. However, he failed to elaborate how a public vote he anticipated at 5-1 against an initiative the town attorney has stated could not stand up legally, might help those constituents. Particularly with the likelihood of town taxpayers having to support a costly, time-consuming, and likely losing legal fight with the State, were his ordinance proposal to be approved.
But Lloyd continued to press for taking his no employment consequences business mandate to a council meeting public hearing and vote. Again beating the meeting table rhythmically, he stated, “I’m fine with having the argument and losing on the merits” (see subheader section below).
He added that he would continue to try to convince his council colleagues to alter their stance to his side on his proposal to forbid private-sector businesses and other entities in town from being able to mandate vaccines for employees, or even reassign unvaccinated employees among other governmental dictates on private-sector operations.
“What are you afraid of?” Lloyd challenged Thompson of proceeding to a vote.
“It’s literally not enforceable – it’s a waste of time at this juncture,” Thompson countered of a council majority’s apparent consensus that Town Attorney Doug Napier’s opinion is legally sound.
Lloyd challenged Napier’s research and opinion on his proposal, asking for specific, directly related case histories. And while Napier previously cited specified written legislation indicating the State does have the authority to mandate vaccinations in a public health crisis, thus in a Dillon Rule state like Virginia seeming to eliminate a municipality’s ability to do the opposite, Lloyd expanded his legal inquiry to include a state government challenge of the legality of any municipal ordinance proposal in the past.
“Is there any case regarding dog walking, hand-standing, anything, carnivals, curb and gutter, credit card fees – is there anything?” Lloyd pressed Napier for a case history example of a state challenge of municipal code authority.
“I haven’t looked at it like that,” Napier replied.
“I’d like you to look at it like that,” Lloyd told the town attorney.
At this point, Mayor Holloway entered the fray.
“I can tell you I’m not going to have it on the agenda – I think it’s a waste of time,” Holloway told Lloyd, siding with Thompson on the “why are we doing this” aspect of a public vote.
Lloyd responded by challenging the mayor’s authority to limit his ability to force the issue to a meeting vote. “I was told that we changed our local ordinances because, in order to empower town councilmen to bring their own things on their agenda when the mayor doesn’t want it on the agenda. So, the code was designed for this specific circumstance,” Lloyd told the mayor. He then cited the support of a necessary second council member to bring the ordinance proposal forward over the mayor’s wishes. While not mentioned during the work session, staff later verified that support to move the matter forward came from Joseph McFadden.
“By the way, we’ve got two people to get it on the agenda since last month and we’re still playing this game,” Lloyd said with rising frustration aimed the town attorney’s way.
“I’m not in control of the agenda – I don’t do anything with it,” Napier pointed out.
“But you know what the town code says regarding the agenda,” Lloyd parried, refusing to take his sights off the only other lawyer at the table. Napier reiterated that he does not influence meeting agenda construction. With voices beginning to rise, Mayor Holloway asked Lloyd “to tone it down” – Uh oh.
“You know what, excuse me, I’ve been really polite about this. I’ve put it in emails, I’ve made polite requests over this for now weeks. And I’m not getting straight answers to direct questions,” Lloyd replied to the mayor, suggesting staff stonewalling of his desire to take the matter to a public vote. After some silent reading, Napier read the relevant code on agendas to council, minus the absent Gary Gillespie.
“The mayor or in his absence, the vice mayor, approves the final regular meeting and work session agendas before the publication and shall not remove any item on said agendas placed by at least two council members,” Napier read, leading to further back and forth.
The outcome is that Lloyd’s proposed town ordinance restrictions on businesses and other entities within the town limits being able to mandate employee vaccinations will be advertised for a public hearing and a vote slated at a special council meeting at Town Hall, 7 p.m. Monday, August 2. It was observed that the public would also have an opportunity to weigh in at the council’s regular meeting of June 26 at the Warren County Government Center. That opportunity would come during the Public Concerns portion of the meeting devoted to non-agenda items.
‘Fine with losing on the merits’
As to the merit of his offered example of a constituent fear of the COVID-19 vaccination based on the risk of female sterilization as a consequence of Coronavirus vaccinations, an online search revealed multiple news and medical reports attributing the concern to a “rebranding” of long-standing anti-vaccination “disinformation” claims with no verifiable scientific support base. Here is what the medical site “sciencebasedmedicine.org” posted June 7 on the matter:
“Before there were safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use, such as the vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson here in the US, as well as AstraZeneca in Europe and elsewhere, those of us who have been countering the antivaccine movement for many years now were warning about the sorts of disinformation that anti-vaxxers would spread about them. We were largely correct, too, but I can’t really say that it took any particular brilliance or foresight to have been so correct. We simply knew that there is no truly new trope, pseudoscience, or disinformation in the antivaccine narratives and conspiracy theories; so all we did was to predict the repurposing of tried-and-not-true anti-vax lies.”
Of the claim that “a top Pfizer researcher” was raising concerns about a vaccine/sterilization link, a December 2020 Associated Press (AP) investigative report ruled the claim “FALSE”. The AP story by Beatrice Dupuy based the false claim, at least in part, on social media circulation of a “Health and Money News” story titled “Head of Pfizer Research: Covid Vaccine is Female Sterilization” naming a “retired” British doctor named Michael Yeadon, who left Pfizer nine years earlier, as the source. While AP could not locate Yeadon for comment, multiple practicing medical sources contacted by the writer debunked the alleged science cited in the article as the basis for the sterilization concern.
The Snopes fact-checking site noted that in his retirement, Yeadon and a German physician Wolfgang Wodarg had sent a letter of concern to the European Medicines Agency (ESA) citing a potential blocking of a placenta-forming protein in mammals related to the Pfizer vaccine. However, Yeadon and Wodarg’s letter to ESA never claimed the vaccine actually caused infertility in humans as the circulated Health and Money News headline/story suggested.
In fact, an online search of “support for COVID-19 vaccination/sterility claims” led to pages of links to articles and medical sites debunking any claims that COVID vaccinations have been linked to female or male infertility.
See the above-referenced discussion in the Town video, beginning just past the 1-hour-30 minute mark, as well other council business discussed that evening. That other business included an updated version of a new Special Events Permitting Code; a Water and Sewer Line Replacement Program to help town utility customers finance the replacement of aging, corroding water and sewer lines; a proposed ordinance amendment on Blighted and Non-Conforming Structures; Dusk to Dawn lighting in town and impacts on neighbors; and the advisability or not, of encouraging short-term rentals in town, among other topics.
At least two supervisors willing to revisit continuation of coyote bounty program in more open forum
Seeing the continued awarding of $50 bounties for the random shooting of coyotes in Warren County following a November 10, 2020, work session presentation by County legal and animal control staff seeking an end to the practice as counterproductive to its intent of thinning coyote pack numbers, Royal Examiner recently sought information on the Board of Supervisors apparently unanimous decision to continue the bounty awards.
In early October this reporter emailed Board Chairman Cheryl Cullers with copies to the other four board members in case there was a divergent opinion on the matter that has not, to this reporter’s knowledge, been publicly discussed. The only initial reply was from the board chair: “… but there are those that don’t agree with that information,” Cullers replied of the information presented to the board on November 10, 2020, by Warren County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Officer Laura Gomez and Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan.
“That information” was addressed in Royal Examiner’s November 11, 2020, story “County headed to public hearings to end coyote bounty payments and expansion of loose dog prohibitions”. It included the following information: “The biggest issue with (coyote bounties) is we have documentation showing it’s not effective in any way. And removing the coyote bounty would not prevent people from still being able to protect their property and their livestock … And they’re showing in that letter that it has over a 150-year failure,” Animal Control Officer Gomez noted of the proposed ordinance amendment ending the bounty program.
“That letter” referenced by Gomez to the county supervisors on November 10, 2020, stated among other things that: “Coyote bounties have been tried throughout the United States for more than 150 years. There is not a single documented instance of a bounty
program temporarily or permanently reducing coyote populations or livestock depredation problems,” Michael L. Fies of VDGIF (Va. Department of Game and Inland Fisheries) wrote in response to a November 2016 inquiry by Bath County Animal Control officials included in Tuesday night’s agenda packet,” Royal Examiner reported at the time.
And it was not simply the abandonment of bounties, but the implementation of what was called more “successful targeted control” programs in place of bounties, suggested at the state level that was brought to the supervisors late last year:
“Since coyote bounties are ineffective, our Department has consistently recommended against these programs in favor of targeted control efforts around farms with a history of coyote damage. This approach has been successfully used by USDA Wildlife Services to reduce livestock losses in other portions of the state,” VDGIF’s Fies wrote in the above-referenced 2016 letter to Bath County officials presented to Warren County’s elected officials by animal control and legal staffs in late 2020.
It might be noted that this reporter’s headline on the referenced story on that November 10, 2020, presentation on coyote bounty programs contained one glaring inaccuracy – “County headed to public hearings to end coyote bounty payments (and a related animal control issue on dogs running loose in the county). For no public hearing was there to be, nor to this reporter’s knowledge, any open work session or meeting discussion by the board of the information it was presented with by county staff on November 10, 2020, nor of any expressed citizen disagreement with that information.
Rather, on January 5, 2021, coyote bounties were presented for continuation as part of the Consent Agenda for matters considered “routine business” not requiring public discussion or scrutiny by the board prior to a vote of approval. And while other Consent Agenda items were pulled for discussion that evening, continuing the coyote bounty program was not one of them.
But that could be poised to change. Contacted about the approval process, first Board Chairman Cullers expressed a willingness to revisit the issue. “I would be glad to have a future discussion on this issue. I understand the side that feels it is not effective, but there are those that don’t agree with that information. Again I will be glad to readdress the issue,” Cullers replied to this reporter’s emailed inquiry about the initial approval process.
And “readdress” would seem a wise course for this board majority. Because that initial approval process, essentially done out of the public eye, other than the vote to continue it without a public hearing or public discussion other than one meeting public comment favoring continuation of the bounties that Cullers cited, seems to run contrary to the process of a board majority carried into office over a year and a half ago on campaign promises of ending political “business as usual” out of the public eye – a process cited as contributing to the EDA financial scandal the county is still recovering from.
In fact, we reached out a second time to North River Supervisor Delores Oates following her comment at the October 5 Board of Supervisors meeting to County Administrator Ed Daley regarding the effectiveness of air purification machines the County is pondering the purchase of for use in county government buildings. – “We want facts, not opinions,” Oates told Daley of a final decision on the air purification device purchase for Warren County Government buildings.
And yes, facts, as they are available, would be valuable in ascertaining the effectiveness of the air purification machines in limiting the spread of contagious viral or other airborne illnesses. But why not the same standard of “facts, not opinions” in the decision to continue a coyote bounty program found locally, state-wide, and nationally to be counterproductive to its intent of thinning coyote packs anywhere over 150 years of experience?
And Oates too expressed a willingness to revisit the issue prior to publication.
“I would be happy to discuss. If memory serves me correctly, there were no alternatives offered to control the population of coyotes at that presentation. I believe we postponed a decision to learn more about what options were available to reduce the coyote population,” Oates responded to our email inquiry.
“I stand on my facts, not opinions statement,” she added, pointing to myriad other issues the County has faced in the past year: “On this topic, we didn’t revisit as I suspect many other issues have taken precedent. With COVID and the IT breach, the coyote topic didn’t seem urgent. I am not opposed to revisiting the alternatives to bounties in the near term,” Oates wrote Royal Examiner, adding, “Perhaps we needed to understand what targeted control meant. I will be honest it’s been almost a year since we heard the presentation. We wanted to understand what the cost was to farmers with a targeted control approach. I know there were lingering questions which is why we just didn’t eliminate the program.”
And with a perhaps building board consensus, it appears the county supervisors may be revisiting the coyote bounty issue, and exploring alternatives such as those referenced “targeted control efforts around farms with a history of coyote damage” that Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Michael L. Fies referenced in his 2016 letter on the subject to Bath County officials. As we told Supervisors Cullers and Oates during our discussion, it seems counterintuitive to continue to pay people in a bounty program cited by wildlife professionals as not only ineffective but achieving the opposite effect of often increasing coyote numbers, rather than reducing them.
And if there are citizens who disagree with those conclusions of wildlife professionals, it would be nice to publicly hear what facts, if any, those disagreements are based upon.
See the full November 10, 2020, presentation and discussion in the linked Warren County Work Session video Nov 10, 2020 Board of Supervisors Work Session – Warren County, VA (swagit.com):
County Planning Commission reviews Fire Department Capital Improvement Plan, also faces upsurge in permit activity
The Warren County Planning Commission met on October 13 in a work session to review a Capital Improvement Plan submission for 2021-2025 for the County Fire and Emergency Services Department. Chief James Bonzano told the Commission that calls for service for 2020, the last complete year, increased by over 3%, continuing a trend that began in 2013. This increase impacts response times, budget costs, and equipment availability, he explained. Calls were split between Fire, at 14%, and EMS (Emergency Medical Service), at 86%. EMS vehicles are called out more than 4 times as often as fire apparatus, have longer runs, and as a result, wear out that much sooner.
The National Standards for fire department equipment govern when it should be placed on the reserve list or removed from service. According to Chief Bonzano, the current fleet has 18 units of its 65 that are over 15 years old, and two over 25 years. In Warren County, there is currently no capacity to place vehicles in reserve. The chief also identified facility improvements needed, live-fire training, and firefighter cancer prevention as priorities in the submission. The Chief oversees a nearly $6 million annual combined budget.
Several commissioners suggested ways to extend budgets by alternative financing or leasing. The Chief acknowledged he is looking into these mechanisms but cautioned that many of them assume a fleet that allows for residual values when turning in a vehicle at the end of the lease. Much of the current fleet is far past the age where it would have any residual value as used equipment. The Fire/EMS Department is also pressed for volunteers – not only operational but associates – helpers of all kinds, including fundraisers. The Fire and Rescue Services capital investment submission will now be fed into the County’s budget process.
The regular Planning Commission meeting followed immediately after the work session, and the commission considered two Conditional Use permits (CUP) requests.
Terra Site Constructors, LLC, is requesting a Conditional Use Permit for a contractor storage yard at 6986 Winchester Road in the North River Magisterial District. The property is zoned Industrial (I). Planning Director Joe Petty reviewed the recommendations for approval of the request for the commission members. There were no public comments on the proposal, so Commission Chairman Robert Myers closed the public hearing. The site will primarily be used for the temporary storage of heavy equipment. After a brief discussion, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the permit. The request will now go to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
Gordon Lee Birkhimer has requested a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental for his property at 52 Forest View Drive, an Agriculturally zoned property in the Fork Magisterial District. Mr. Birkhimer is planning a sailboat trip around the world and expects to be absent for up to two years. He has engaged a professional management firm to oversee the rental activity, and a local citizen to do maintenance and upkeep.
When Chairman Jones opened the floor for public comment, Pamela Rhodes addressed the commissioners and outlined her opposition to the permit. As a 30-year resident of the neighborhood, she expressed the opinion that the applicant would have no control over what kind of people would be renting the property and as an absent property owner would not care. She was opposed to long or short-term rental for the property. In addition, one neighboring property owner, Phyllis Wright, had written to the planning department and opposed the permit being issued. Her concerns were for personal safety, fire danger, and the potential for crime.
Once the Public hearing was closed, Vice Chairman Hugh Henry commented that the community’s experience with short-term tourist rentals has been very good – an asset in a neighborhood, particularly since strict rules govern the issuance of a permit. Tourist rentals must be well maintained or guests won’t rent them. A long-term renter is a much greater risk, since a property owner can rent his property to anyone he chooses, and neighbors have no recourse. Management companies do generally perform background checks, and a written set of guidelines in the property management plan assure that guests know what the rules are.
Given the growing experience with the issuance of short-term tourist rental CUPs and the concerns of neighbors, Vice Chairman Henry asked the applicant if he would agree to two additional conditions: A prohibition against the use of ATVs on the property or roads around it, and a prohibition on discharging firearms. The applicant agreed. The commission then voted unanimously to recommend approval. The request will now go to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
The commission faces a steep climb at its November meeting with 10 CUP requests for a variety of uses, including short-term tourist rentals, a cluster housing development, an Outdoor Recreation Operation, two Rural Events Facilities, a gunsmithing service, and a campground, as well as two proposed Text Amendment changes to the Warren County Code Chapter 180. Commissioners approved authorizations to advertise all these requests.
Planning Director Joe Petty told the commission that the Comprehensive Plan review work sessions will resume in January, and he thanked the commissioners for their time and work so far on the new plan. Meantime, the Planning Department will be meeting with the contracting firm that is helping with the rewrite to prepare for the next steps.
Chairman Myers then adjourned the meeting.
County seeks Town to jointly explore regional water alliance
While the Front Royal Town Council was failing to gather a quorum to conduct its work session slated to follow a 6 p.m. Finance and Audit Committee meeting at Town Hall, across town at the Warren County Government Center several town officials including Assistant Town Manager Kathleen Leidich and Public Works Director Robbie Boyer, were present to hear a presentation by the Frederick Water Authority to a work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors.
Board Chair Cheryl Cullers noted the invitation extended to, not only town staff, but its elected officials at last month’s Liaison Committee meeting, to hear the presentation on what appears to be a state-and-federal government promoted move toward regional water authorities.
“I’m not trying to tell the Town what to do – I want them to be a part of this,” Cullers said of a cooperative move into an altered water-sewer utility relationship that could be of mutual benefit to both municipalities, particularly over the long haul of future development on the county’s north side.
Cullers noted that several council members have stated the intention of watching the County video of the presentation in playing catch up. And what town officials did or will hear is very interesting as to long-range planning for regional growth and provision of cost-efficient water and sewer service. For while the Town of Front Royal has its own central water-sewer utility, it is dealing with what was termed “100-year-old infrastructure” in some areas and a limited and now oft-threatened by solid waste-fueled destructive algae blooms, water supply, the Shenandoah River. The Frederick Water Authority on the other hand is in the midst of creating new infrastructure for what appears to be a massive underground water source, while entertaining a change in its structural documentation to extend its reach beyond the boundaries of Frederick County and the City of Winchester to adjacent counties including Warren and Clarke.
Executive Director Eric Lawrence outlined the Frederick Water Authority’s existing parameters, structure and infrastructure. That structure includes independence from the Frederick County government, though it is a relationship that currently includes the Frederick County Supervisors appointing the water authority’s board of directors. Lawrence noted that like municipal utilities, the Frederick Water Authority is a non-profit operation with its fees going back into the supporting infrastructure. A cost-comparison showed favorable numbers on average residential charges in the region. And Lawrence noted that potential expansion into adjacent counties, further expanding the customer base would poise the operation to continue to offer excellent rates with a massive water supply with redundancy and backup within that water supply base.
However, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter pointed to an old written aspect of the Route 522 North Corridor Agreement that saw the Town of Front Royal extend its central water-sewer utility into Warren County’s Route 340/522 North Corridor to facilitate industrial and commercial tax-base expansion in the county’s northside. That “Sanitation Authority” aspect of the Corridor Agreement could seem to legally prohibit shopping for better water-sewer utility rates by Warren County on its northside. However, were the Town to agree to throw into the regional water concept with Warren County, seeing benefits to its own future operations and expenses, such a legal blockage could evaporate.
North River Supervisor Delores Oates noted recent experience had shown that working at odds with each other was in neither the County, nor Town’s best interest.
“I’m just saying that it’s easier to say than to do,” Carter said of a joint move of the Town and County governments toward a regional water authority that could create a major realignment of how the Town’s water-sewer utility operates.
See details of the Frederick Water Authority operations and future potential in an expanding regional format, along with its implications on utility costs on both sides of the town-county line, in the first hour-and-six-minute power point presentation and Q&A in the County work session video.
Following that regional water authority presentation and discussion the board adjourned to Closed/Executive Session to discuss EDA litigation and related matters including recovery of EDA assets. And on the back end of that hour-and-fifteen-minute Closed Session, see a detailed presentation on the operations, costs and revenue streams of the County’s Parks and Recreation Department; followed by County Administrator Ed Daley’s summary of options on Compensation Board Bonus pay related to COVID pandemic operations and County payments to non-Comp Board covered employees.
EDA completes audits for 2018 and 2019; 2020 audit is next
The Board of Directors of the Front Royal and Warren County Economic Development Authority accepted its audited financial statements for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, today, October 5, 2021. The audit of the financial statements was conducted by the firm of Brown Edwards, CPAs of Harrisonburg, VA.
“We have received the final outside audits conducted for 2018 and 2019,” said EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne. “This was a huge effort on the part of Brown Edwards, and they have done very good work in challenging circumstances. Getting these two financial audits completed is a major step forward in putting the EDA’s past difficulties behind us. Now we can better focus on economic development issues to benefit the community.”
“The auditors’ letter points to three areas for improvement of internal controls,” Browne said. “It was important to make each improvement recommended by the CPAs, and we have done just that. The Warren County staff now administer the check-writing duties, collection of rents, and have layers of approvals for expenses within EDA and the County administration that were not there three years ago.”
The audited financial statements show that, at the end of the fiscal year 2019, the EDA’s total net assets were $38,036,737, and its net liabilities were $44,575,435, resulting in a deficit net position of $6,538,698. The EDA will work with Warren County’s auditors starting with the fiscal year 2020, which audit can now be undertaken.
The EDA Board of Directors will have their next regular monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, October 29, 2021, at 9 a.m.
Outside agency, departmental updates dominate County Board’s attention
The Warren County Board of Supervisors had a light action agenda – a six-item Consent Agenda – but a full morning of outside and County agency operational and personnel updates before adjourning to a 10 a.m. Closed Session for information on Economic Development Authority litigation. Following that approximate half-hour Executive Session, the board got the bad news from County Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico that the County was not a recipient of SAFER grant funding recently announced through the State.
Maiatico explained that perhaps already being the recipient of grant funding for the Rivermont Fire Station, being near the front of the line for additional grant funding might be a longshot at this point. However, he added that there appeared to be funds remaining under the recent SAFER grant umbrella, so the department hasn’t given up hope some additional funding might come the County’s way for coming operational needs or equipment needs.
Prior to the Closed Session County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Ballenger gave a detailed update on the school system’s status into this 2021 semester in the second year of COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic precautions. The report was positive, with no system schools on the state “outbreak” list. Responding to a question, Ballenger explained that approximately 40 students on a quarantine list were a result of home exposures, and precautions to prevent those out-of-school exposures from being carried into the schools. Families were urged to do due diligence on potential home exposures, to help the system “Protect Instruction” as the semester progresses. The primary goal being to keep as many students as possible in school and safe from Coronavirus exposure, along with their instructors.
The system, like others, is dealing with a shortage of substitute or replacement instructors due to the evolving Coronavirus situation with the more contagious Delta-variant-fueled Phase 4 remaining an issue.
A presentation by People Inc. representatives tied into a follow up by Warren County Department of Social Services Director Jon Martz. Martz pointed out he had me with People Inc. reps the previous days to coordinate efforts moving forward as economic hardships are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Martz made one of several new staff introductions to the board, from his department Job Developer Brooke McClung. However, he also noted the loss of DSS staffer Samantha Edwards to another jurisdiction closer to her home. Edwards is leaving her county position tomorrow to become the DSS Assistant Director in Rappahannock County.
Others staffers headed this way introduced to the board Tuesday morning included Human Resources Director Jane Meadows and Finance Director Matt Robertson. Kayla Darr was noted for her work filling gaps in Admin during this time of staffing transitions.
During his County Administrator’s Report, Ed Daley reminded town officials of next week’s 6 p.m., Tuesday, October 12, work session in which the County will receive a Regional Water initiative presentation by Frederick County officials. Town Council and key staff have been invited to consider potential advantages of both municipalities moving in a regional water provider direction.
See these discussions and other business, including the monthly VDOT update, and a work session presentation on operations and staffing at the County Public Works Department, in the County video.
County applies for broadband grant – seeking input from unserved locations
Warren County has applied for a state grant to achieve universal fiber-to-the-home broadband to unserved locations in the County.
These state grants will only be available to areas that are unserved by broadband. As part of the planning effort, a list of unserved areas was submitted to the state agency that determines whether broadband service is available.
Several providers, including Virginia Broadband, Shentel, and Century Link/Lumen, have challenged the list of unserved areas in Warren County by claiming they already offer broadband service within areas proposed for grant funding.
A survey is available now to verify these unserved areas in Warren County. Without adequate survey responses from these areas, they may be excluded from the broadband grant project.